Christmas in Spain gets off to a rather peculiar and unofficial start on Dec. 22nd when children from San Ildefonso School can be heard calling out the numbers and prizes of the Lotería de Navidad, which is likely the most followed Spanish lottery during the entire year. In Spain, when you hear the melodic sounds of the prize draw on the radio, you think: “Christmas time has arrived”. But before this date, in Bodegas Langa, all members our staff and family to, have a special dinner together and all workers receive “El Aguinaldo”. The Aguinaldo is a big box with an Iberian ham, a cheese, sausage, marzipans and wines.
24th is Christmas Eve, Nochebuena in Spanish. The annual family affair is a joyful event, where the sumptuous meal and a lot of wine carry on until late at night. (Seafood, sea bream, roasted lamb and finally nougat and marzipans!
Something of a new holiday tradition has been gaining in popularity in Spain for the last few decades inspired by the popular culture of other countries; Santa Claus, but in my family don’t like it a lot, because it isn’t a Spanish tradition. But kids love it because they can receive the presents before Reyes Magos (Three Kings)
Another special day that comes around during Christmas time is Dec. 28th, the “Día de Los Santos Inocentes”, a day that originally commemorated the young victims of a massacre ordered by the biblical-age governor of Judea, Herode. The governor hoped to eliminate the future threat to his power after prophets announced the recent birth of a new “king of the Jewish people”. The word innocent in Spanish can also mean simple or naïve, and this day in Spain is celebrated in much the same way as April Fool’s Day is in other cultures, meaning Dec. 28th is a day to watch out for tricks or “inocentadas” that pranksters are looking to play on people.
While Christmas Eve is a family celebration, New Year’s Eve (called Noche Vieja in Spanish) is a time for partying with friends. It is a night for throwing fiestas called “cotillones” or for gathering in town squares under the old clock tower waiting in anxious anticipation for it to strike twelve. According to tradition, everybody has to eat 12 grapes at this time to guarantee good fortune for the New Year. Afterward, excited everybody offers toasts to the New Year with glasses of cava. The festive continues until the wee hours of the early morning, and January 1st is a day of rest for those who have partied away the last night of the old year.
On Jan. 5th, people make their way to their favourite bakeries to order a Roscón de Reyes (a ring-shaped cake eaten on Jan. 6th), which they will enjoy for breakfast the following day. Much more than a day for sweet traditions, the main focus here is on the kids, as parades roll through town in which the Reyes Magos (three kings) and their pages shower candy over delighted children. After all the high emotions, nervous kids will have a tough time falling asleep that night, particularly because the following morning is the feast day of the Epiphany when the three kings will traditionally arrive from the east to leave gifts for the well-behaved.
Christmas in Spain is a time of Christmas carols, decorations, festive street lighting, joy, and a festive atmosphere –religious or secular- made evident by the smiles on the faces of people as they look around town for gifts for their loved ones.
– Cesar Langa, Bodegas Langa